Thursday, June 30, 2011

Featured Artist - Mandy Mercier

Today, I have an interview to share with you. Mandy Mercier is one of seven nominees for the inaugural category of the ACADEMY AWARD OF DISTINCTION. Remember, this is a new category for the 2011 TMAs. The Academy of Texas Music celebrates musical diversity, and the projects of these nominees might not precisely fit the criteria of the other award categories. They are unique and worthy of recognition. This award will be determined 100% by public vote.

Mandy Mercier is a powerhouse of talent. She is half Irish and half Cajun French and is a singer-songwriter, harmony vocalist and violin/fiddle player. As a rock-blues singer and songwriter Mercier has released five albums on various labels including Wild Cantinas Records, Frog Records and Halt Music, and has been a guest vocalist on compilation albums with Lost Art Records, Watermelon, Deep South Productions and Dock Entertainment (Spain). She has also worked as a side musician. Many who hear her perform have compared her to the great Janis Joplin – not for the sound but for the way she makes you feel. Mandy touches your soul with every note she sings.

Awarded "Female Vocalist of the Year" from the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Country Music Association in 1992, she has also been inducted into the Academy of Country Music , despite the fact she doesn’t consider herself a country singer, and won Honorable Mention in the "M-TV Beach House Band" competition (1994). Her song, "Wild Dreams of the Shy Boys" won an Honor Award in the Great American Song Contest, Contemporary Acoustic/Folk category in 2004 and was nominated for "Singer-Songwriter of the Year 2008" by the Academy of Texas Music.

Welcome, Mandy Mercier!

Thanks for joining us in the Country today, Mandy. It is such a pleasure to have you sit with us.

First off, I love the cover for Singer in a Roadhouse Band. The ‘scrapbook’ style layout is just beautiful. Is it a good depiction of your style? Yes, I’d say so!! The design was actually done by Oasis, whom you’ve probably heard of – they press up CDs and have a great art department. My previous CDs featured artwork by Guy Juke, legendary Austin poster artists. I asked them to try to “match” the style, cover-wise (please feel free to see my website “Discography”) and yes, the scrapbook (photos) are to represent the different times in my life when I wrote or demo-ed the songs.

You have quite an impressive musical background between your heritage and the mentorship of Itzhak Perlman. Is there any part of that you feel comes through more than another in your music? Well, I started out as a songwriter, who was blessed with the ability to learn an instrument fairly easily. I’m not a virtuoso, but I started with violin as you know, back in a school music program in elementary school (I’m a big advocate of those programs!) then later added piano and guitar. I also played drums (!) for several years in high school and that enables me to be a decent percussionist in a band situation. To get back to your question (!) my ability to play has let me work with, and also learn from, some amazing artists, that is, other singer-songwriters who have certainly made an impression on me and from whom I’ve learned a lot about both writing and performing. At the same time I’ve always wanted to “do my own thing” with songwriting, as far as self-expression.

For any of our readers who don’t know about you or haven’t been to your website (shame on them), you are far from new to the music scene and a true example of fame doesn’t happen over night. What’s been the toughest part of the climb? I know this will sound either non-politically correct or old-fashioned, but for me it has been trying to make a living in the music business as a woman. I am thrilled that young women today are simply taking their power and at the same time, young men seem to accept them much more easily. For me, earlier in life especially, it was very hard to separate out the roles of woman and musician. As a bandleader I was often not given proper respect; as a side musician, often I felt I was hired for my looks (!) rather than abilities, and then also disappointingly, the fact that I was a woman, onstage, would distract from the person I was backing up, even though I would never “hotdog” or try to distract from the front person. I honestly feel if I had been a guy, it would have been much easier for me, definitely in both the bandleader and “sideman” roles. Again though I’m glad times are changing!! Viva the young ladies!!

You’ve literally been coast to coast honing your craft and playing with a broad spectrum of musical talents and genres. Do you feel influenced by one more than another or are you a happy mix of all your experiences? I try to integrate all the great music I’ve been privileged to be a part of, and just plain listen to, into, as you say, a happy mix or “gumbo” of all the times I’ve been around all kinds of music. At one point in Austin, I would go to sing (or listen to) blues at Antone’s or Hut’s one night (Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Cobras), to Emmajoe’s (Butch Hancock, Jimmie Gilmore, Lucinda, Shake Russell, John Vandiver), Spellman’s or the Alamo Hotel (Blaze Foley, Townes Van Zandt, David Rodriguez) for folk music (not to mention the incredible Uncle Walt’s Band), Steamboat for rock and great (fun) cover bands (Christopher Cross, Denim), and pretty much everything in between. I myself played at all these clubs which makes my stuff, as you kindly say, eclectic but at the same time I hope I’ve integrated what I’ve heard and learned into my own sound.

Reviewers repeatedly compare you to the great Janis Joplin. That’s quite a comparison. How does that make you feel when you hear it? Well, I’m humbled of course. I don’t really think I sound like Janis so much as that I have a lot of passion when I sing, which of course she had to an amazing degree. It’s a great compliment to be compared with her. I do a little more songwriting (although she did also write, which not everyone gives her credit for) and I think my style is a little more varied; but I have great respect for her. Despite people who don’t appreciate her as much as I do, I’ve noticed that as much as she’s known for her passionate and intense singing style, her phrasing was impeccable, and she never, ever sang off-key – quite an accomplishment given the sound systems back in those days!! Not a lot of monitor sound going on!!

We know what the reviewers have to say. But what do you want people to carry with them after seeing you perform? Well, I’ve said this before and I’m not necessarily talking about myself, although I would say I definitely aspire to this: I think all musicians playing live are performing the role of a sort of shaman – I quote Julia Cameron, who wrote “The Artist’s Way,” who either said or implied, “The impulse toward art is ultimately the impulse toward God.” I think people come to hear music to have fun certainly (!) and to meet people, but also to release energy (of course) and be comforted, uplifted, inspired in some way. I know the great people I go to listen to have that effect on me and I hope I can provide it (that service to the audience) in some small way.

You were last nominated for Songwriter of the Year in 2008 with the Texas Music Association. This year, you are in an inaugural category for the Academy Award of Distinction. What does being in this category mean to you? Well, again it’s a great honor. I love being a part of the Academy and any recognition from them is inspiring and encouraging. This is a neat category in that people vote for the winner as opposed to other categories where the Board judges and chooses the winners. However I think some bands have a large following and the Academy’s procedures of also recognizing artists who are less known (yet!) is great for those who haven’t yet been found by a larger audience. I really mean it when I say, it’s a privilege to be nominated.

I love how you list the yearly performance highlights on your website. With 2011 only half over, what do you want to add to the list this year? Well, I’d like to do more traveling, would love to go to the West Coast again, also New England, places I’ve lived before (that would also include Colorado, and New York). Europe of course, where Texas music is so appreciated (!) (if you can carry enough CDs in your luggage, I’ve heard you can cover some travel costs!!). I am always glad and honored to play tribute concerts, benefits and reunions. We have one coming up in October, the 2nd annual reunion of the Austin Outhouse, where Blaze Foley, Champ Hood, Pat Mears, Lost John Casner and many other great friends played with me and whom I used to love to go see.

What’s on the horizon for Mandy Mercier? Any projects you can give us a sneak peek on? I’d like to do some Cajun-influenced songs featuring more of my fiddle playing. I’d also like to do a whole album of songs by other friends, although I always sneak in one or two on every album (Blaze Foley, Calvin Russell, other friends who are no longer with us whose music I love to carry on).

What would you do if you couldn’t write or perform any longer? Would you go back to editing? (yes folks, she used to be an editor in New York) Oh, yikes. No, I think the book industry is pretty much done as a career. I’m a good editor but the books I read, either the writer knows how to write (and punctuate!) or they don’t; it’s incredible the spelling and grammatical (and usage) errors I see in books sometimes!!! I like working with writers and editing their work on a freelance basis. What I enjoy other than music is photography (got to figure out that digital format! I still use film); I love gardening (when it’s not so hot out!!), and of course (again) travel. Visiting friends and family, and maybe another secret project I’ll tell you about at some point!! Thanks for asking :-)

Mandy, thank you for your time today. Good luck on the nomination!
Thank you!!

If you've not checked out Mandy's website, please take a few moments to get to know her there...

You can order all of her albums at

Beginning Monday, I'll introduce you to the Entertainer of the Year nominees as we count down to the biggest night of the year for the Texas music community. Until then, have a safe 4th of July weekend and remember why we celebrate!

Country Blessings!

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